FSGB Annual Report 2018: Judicial Actions Involving Board Rulings

 

The following is excerpted from the Foreign Service Grievance Board Annual Report 2018. This is a good time to remind folks that while names/posts and identifying details are typically redacted from the Record of Proceedings (ROPs) routinely posted in the publicly available website fsgb.gov, once the case is filed in federal court, the records are usually publicly accessible and are unredacted (unless the case is sealed).

As described in last year’s report, USAID OIG had recommended that the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2012-057 be separated for cause. After two hearings, the Board approved the agency’s decision. The grievant appealed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In a decision issued October 12, 2018, the court upheld the Board’s decision on cross-motions for summary judgment. The grievant has appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, challenging the District Court’s and Board’s construction of section 7(b) of the IG Act, which protects the confidentiality of employee informants.

In FSGB Case No. 2014-018, the grievant had requested a waiver of collection of a substantial overpayment of her deceased mother’s survivor’s annuity. The Department contended that she was not entitled to consideration of a waiver because the overpayment was made to her mother’s estate; under Department regulations, estates are not entitled to waivers. The Board concurred and grievant appealed. In a decision issued January 19, 2018, the D.C. district court found that the regulation denying waivers to estates was valid, but that the FSGB had erred in determining that the overpayments were made to the mother’s estate rather than to grievant as an individual. The court remanded the case for the Department and the Board to decide the request for the waiver on its merits. The waiver request is currently pending with the Department.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2015-016 filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2017 against the Department and his former rater and reviewer requesting monetary damages related to the Board’s denial of his grievance. He had contested two EERs and a low ranking. The district court dismissed the complaint as untimely in a decision issued March 30, 2018. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed that decision on December 28, 2018.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-005 contended that he was deprived of certain benefits, such as promotion consideration, during a five-year assignment to an international organization. The Department found him ineligible for the benefits because his assignment to the organization was effected through a “separation and transfer” agreement, rather than a “detail.” The Board affirmed the Department’s decision and the United States District Court for the District of Colombia upheld that decision on appeal in a decision issued in 2016. The grievant had also appealed the Board’s decision in a second, related, case, FSGB Case No 2014-024, in which he had claimed certain benefits based upon his separation and transfer and subsequent reemployment with the Department. The Board dismissed his second grievance on the grounds of claims preclusion. In a decision issued March 14, 2018, the district court concluded that the Board’s decision was neither arbitrary and capricious nor contrary to law and dismissed his claims. The grievant appealed both decisions to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and that matter remains pending.

The grievant in FSGB Case No. 2017-014 was denied tenure and scheduled for separation from the Foreign Service. Consequently, the Department ordered her to leave her overseas post and assigned her to a position in Washington, D.C. The grievant filed a grievance with the Department challenging her transfer on several bases. The Department denied the grievance, and the grievant appealed to the Board. The Board denied all of grievant’s claims. It further found that, since no statute or regulation had been violated, it lacked jurisdiction to overturn an assignment decision. The grievant appealed the decision to the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division. In a decision issued September 24, 2018, the court affirmed the Board’s decision.

Decisions were issued this year in two other cases filed by the same grievant, stemming from the same sets of circumstances but not involving appeals of Department or Board grievances. The grievant filed a case under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims alleging gender-based discrimination in pay and benefits. She claimed that the Department discriminated against her by paying her less and providing her with fewer benefits than a similarly-situated male employee. The court initially dismissed the case, finding that it lacked jurisdiction because the same appeal was pending in another court at the time she filed. However, that decision was overturned by the circuit court and the case was remanded to the Court of Claims. The grievant also filed two identical complaints in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix Division, alleging discrimination and retaliation by the Department under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. In both cases, the court dismissed all but one of the claims. The grievant also filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging nearly identical discrimination and retaliation by the Department under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has stayed its proceedings pending a decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands case.

An appeal of the Board’s 2017 decision by the State Department and USAID/OIG in another long-running case remains pending in the D.C. District Court following briefing of crossmotions for summary judgment in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ). As described in previous annual reports, the grievant in FSGB Case No. 2013-031 contested the decision to calculate his retirement annuity based on the application of a pay cap on his special differential pay that had not been applied when his salary was paid. In 2014, the Board initially upheld the agency’s decision. On grievant’s appeal, the district court in Civil Action No. 14-cv-1492 (KBJ) vacated the Board’s decision and remanded the case to the Board for further review. On remand, the Board in FSGB Case No. 2013-031R and No. 2016-030 issued a decision granting the grievant calculation and payment of his annuity that he sought. The Board denied the Department’s request for reconsideration of that decision. The Department and USAID/OIG jointly appealed the Board’s decision on remand to the district court in Civil Action No. 18-cv-41 (KBJ).

The 2015 Annual Report reported that the grievant filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2014-003 in Federal District Court, District of Colombia, claiming that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act when it separated her. That appeal is still pending.

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FSGB finds no merit in argument that @StateDept has “unfettered discretion” to grant or deny SNEA benefit

Via FSGB Case No. 2018-016:

“The Department next argues that its granting a SNEA under section 5924 is “discretionary,” and in any event must be paid in accordance with the DSSRs. As we have previously stated, the prior authorization the grievants sought, for reimbursement after their arrival at post, is fully consistent with the DSSRs. Further, we find no merit to the argument that the Department has unfettered discretion under section 5924 to grant or deny a SNEA benefit to employees in any way it may see fit. Rather, law and regulation must limit its discretion.”

Via giphy.com

Is this how you keep a potentially embarrassing case away from public eyes?

 

Via FSGB 2018 Annual Report:

In FSGB Case No. 2018-001, an FS-01 appealed a 3-day suspension on a charge of Conduct Unbecoming. The charge arose from allegations that he facilitated the inappropriate hiring of a former political appointee. Grievant contends that, although he was the hiring official, all of his actions were at the direction of senior bureau staff and in consultation with the bureau’s administrative staff. The case was settled and withdrawn.

*

FSGB Case No. 2018-001: On March 1, 2018, the Foreign Service Grievance Board received a Notice of Withdrawal from grievant’s attorney, {Attorney’s Name}, stating as follows: “Grievant, {Grievant’s Name}, through counsel, {Attorney’s Name}, hereby withdraws his grievance appeal filed on January 3, 2018, with prejudice. The parties have settled their dispute.”  The Notice of Withdrawal has been entered in the record of proceedings, and the record is now closed.

We understand that because this case was settled and withdrawn there is no actual FSGB decision in the case; thus, there is no publicly available record of the case. Presumably State/HR/Grievance has the paper trail and the finer details, but for now, because the case was settled we won’t know who is the ex-political appointee, which bureau was involved, which senior bureau … er staffers were responsible, or the terms of the settlement.  One wonders if the State Department settled this case because it did not want the details in public view, or if grievant has the “receipts” that could get higher ups in a specific bureau in trouble?

via tumblr.com

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FSGB Case: Employee’s Mental Health Issues and Performance

 

Via FSGB Case No. 2016-043:

The Department denies that grievant’s 2013 EER is factually inaccurate, falsely prejudicial, or biased, and cites a series of interviews with her supervisors, subordinates, and colleagues to dispute her contentions about the unfairness and inaccuracy of the EER. In response to grievant’s allegation that she was inadequately counselled on the deficiencies described in her EER, the agency contends, based on statements from grievant’s rating officer, that she was in fact counselled, both formally and informally, during the rating period. With respect to grievant’s claim that she was bullied, ostracized, and treated unfairly by the Embassy community, which she alleges triggered her trauma symptoms, the Department provided input from the Ambassador, grievant’s rating officer, and the General Services officer, all of whom disputed grievant’s allegations.

In response to grievant’s claim that she suffered from then-undiagnosed mental health issues (including anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms), the Department counters with quotes from grievant’s rating officer who stated that “from the time REDACTED arrived at post, she appeared unhappy and talked of being stressed.” The rater recalled that some of her stress “appeared to be related to prior postings (including REDACTED, REDACTED, and REDACTED),” and said that “upon arrival she talked to me about how stressful she had found the 6 months of FSI [Foreign Service Institute] REDACTED language training, and told me she urgently needed a break.” The Department was not persuaded that grievant’s poor performance resulted from the medical condition with which grievant was diagnosed after she left REDACTED. The Department put less credence in the medical statement grievant provided from her post-REDACTED therapist, stating “grievant has not provided medical documentation substantiating her alleged diagnosis. Nor does grievant’s counselor provide such documentation; the counselor merely states that ‘I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis.’”

FSGB BOARD:

In all grievances except those involving discipline, the grievant bears the burden of proving that her claims are meritorious.3 This case turns on whether the grievant’s EER is falsely prejudicial, and, whether any documented underperformance can be attributed to the grievant’s post-REDACTED diagnosis of mental health disorders. The Board notes that the record in this case is, unfortunately, sparse with respect to a diagnosis of grievant’s mental health issues. While the Department is correct in noting that grievant’s counselor noted only that “I believe that PTSD is the primary diagnosis,” the Department provides no opposing medical information whatsoever, relying solely on the observation of grievant’s Foreign Service colleagues in REDACTED.  Grievant’s licensed mental health counselor did in fact provide a detailed listing of grievant’s problems in REDACTED, and concluded that grievant suffered mental health disorders as a result thereof. We note that grievant’s counselor saw the grievant regularly over a period of more than a year. On balance, therefore, the Board is obliged to find grievant’s medical evidence preponderant. After careful examination of the ROP, the Board concludes that grievant’s 2013 EER cannot stand, because her performance during that period was likely influenced by her depression, anxiety, and trauma symptoms. We base our conclusion largely on the detailed statement submitted by grievant’s Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), with whom grievant had at least 38 therapy sessions between April 2014 and August 2015, and to whom grievant was referred by a prior therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and trauma symptoms. In the Board’s view, this statement, written by a mental health professional who knows the grievant well, is entitled to more weight in the decision process than that of grievant’s rating and reviewing officers, or her colleagues at post. We also note that the Agency provided no contradictory medical opinion, or any information of a medical nature.

In her August 18, 2015, statement, grievant’s LPC states, in relevant parts:

She was referred to my center, the National Center for the Treatment of Phobias, Anxiety, and Depression in Washington DC by a previous therapist who had diagnosed her with anxiety, depression, and Trauma Symptoms. She also sees REDACTED , MD for medications at this center. I believe PTSD is the primary diagnosis and the depression and anxiety are symptoms of the PTSD. REDACTED described primitive and unsanitary living conditions that caused her to feel unsafe. She reported unsanitary water in her apartment, unsafe electrical problems, and other living conditions that prevented sleep, peace and support. While in the workplace, she felt she was targeted, bullied and marginalized. Because of the combination of insecurity in her home, insecurity in her workplace, and the stress of an extremely stressful foreign environment, began to suffer from PTSD symptoms. She became depressed and hopeless, developed panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, developed nightmares, and generalized anxiety.

It is my understanding that her evaluations from this period faulted her for having strained relations with her subordinates, program participants, and peers in Washington, as well as difficulty making contacts in the REDACTED media and discomfort speaking to media on the record. I did not observe REDACTED during this period, so I do not have an opinion on the accuracy of these criticisms, but, if true, each would in my opinion be related to the various symptoms of her previously-undiagnosed and untreated anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms. 

I do not believe a patient can work with very seasoned therapists or psychiatrists and hide character issues as described in the accusations towards REDACTED. However, I do believe that it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for REDACTED , while suffering the effects of PTSD, to maintain a high level of diplomacy, an ability to connect well with co-workers, and to utilize PR skills to connect at work well with the media.

Nightmares, panic attacks, depression, extreme fear, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness and not feeling respected or supported would prevent most people from working at a level of excellence which, to my knowledge, had been true for REDACTED before her REDACTED posting. I believe REDACTED ’s behavior while in REDACTED was mischaracterized at most and misunderstood at the least. This is my opinion based on working with many patients who suffer from trauma-related symptoms. 

We find the foregoing LPC statement to be a detailed professional observation, based on relatively long-term (at least 16 months’) observation of grievant, and thus accord it more weight than we do the statements offered by the Department from non-medical providers (her rater, the General Services officer (GSO), the Ambassador, and grievant’s subordinates). While the statement does not contain a definite diagnosis of grievant’s symptoms, we note it is from a licensed medical professional, and is countered by the Department only with comments from non-medical co-workers and colleagues.

THE BOARD’S DECISION:

Grievant has shown by preponderant evidence that she suffered from the effects of then undiagnosed mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and potential Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during her tour in REDACTED and accordingly, her Employee Evaluation Report (EER) for 2013 must be expunged and replaced in her Official Personnel File (OPF) by a standard gap memorandum. Grievant has shown that she suffered from these conditions and that they affected her performance in ways that contributed to the negative statements in her EER. If she is not promoted by reconstituted Selection Boards for the years 2014 -2017, her Time in Class shall be extended by one year.

One more: “as a general matter, an EER is inherently false, even though it accurately describes an employee’s performance, if that poor performance was the result of the employee’s serious illness.”

Court on FSGB tenure denial case: “ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally”

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The 2016 Annual report of the Foreign Service Grievance Board only mentions the Aragon v. Tillerson case in passing as follows:

Daniel P. Aragon, a former Foreign Service career candidate at the Department of State, filed an appeal on January 29, 2016, with the District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Board’s denial of his appeal in FSGB Case No. 2014-034. Mr. Aragon had contested two EERs and the withholding of tenure and involuntary separation that flowed from those EERs.

This case was filed in 2016. Per Federal Rule of Civil Procedure, the Court substituted as defendant the current Secretary of State,Rex Tillerson, for former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has harsh words for the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) on this specific case:

The plaintiff, the Foreign Service, and American taxpayers have invested heavily in the plaintiff’s career as a Foreign Service officer, and the FSGB does a disservice when it renders a decision that ignores significant parts of record and fails to connect rationally the underlying facts to its ultimate conclusion. This is what the FSGB did in finding that the May and November 2013 EERs were not falsely prejudicial. For these reasons, the FSGB’s decision is vacated with respect to its conclusion that these EERs were not falsely prejudicial, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion.21

Quick summary of the case:

The plaintiff, Daniel Aragon, served as an entry-level Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State for five years, until he was denied tenure and involuntarily separated in 2014. The reason for the tenure denial arose during the plaintiff’s second overseas assignment, when the plaintiff was responsible for supervising an employee, whose undisputed pattern of insubordination, tardiness, abuse of leave policies and performance issues would, in many work environments, warrant termination of employment. Instead, the plaintiff’s management efforts, which were ultimately successful, to bring this employee into compliance with basic workplace rules, has led to the plaintiff’s own termination from a job he “love[s].” AR at 354.1

The plaintiff filed the instant action against the Secretary of State, in the Secretary’s official capacity, after the State Department denied his grievance contesting the performance evaluations on which the tenure denial was predicated, and the Foreign Service Grievance Board (“FSGB”) upheld the State Department’s decision.2 Alleging that the FSGB’s decision was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A), the plaintiff seeks, inter alia, an order directing the State Department to remove from his personnel file the two performance evaluations on which the denial of tenure was predicated, Compl., Relief ¶ 3, ECF No. 1; an order rescinding the tenure decisions predicated on those evaluations, id.; an order directing the State Department to reinstate the plaintiff retroactively, with back pay and benefits, id. ¶ 4; and an order directing the State Department to place the plaintiff in the same promotional class he would be in had he received tenure in the winter of 2013, id. ¶ 5. Pending before the Court are the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, see generally Pl.’s Mot. Summ. J. (“Pl.’s MSJ”), ECF No. 12, and the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment, see generally Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. (“Defs.’ MSJ”), ECF No. 14. For the reasons set out below, the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part, without prejudice, the Secretary’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied without prejudice, and this action is remanded to the FSGB for further proceedings.

What the what? Excerpt from court’s opinion:

[T]he record shows that the CPS [cultural program specialist FSN] had an “apparent pattern” of abusing sick leave and would disappear from work for extended periods of time. Id. at 42; see also id. at 335 (describing the manner in which the CPS “took sick leave immediately before or after a block of annual leave[, which] suggest[ed] that she was abusing sick leave in order to augment her annual leave”). This apparently lax office culture was extant before the plaintiff’s arrival, leaving him with the task of changing that culture to ensure that employees, such as the CPS, on the U.S. Government payroll complied with the most basic work performance rules of coming to work on time and providing notice of absences.”

Lip service to evidence

The FSGB paid this evidence lip service in the section of its decision summarizing the plaintiff’s claims, see id. at 405, but the Board did not refer to it, let alone grapple with it, in deciding that the AFI concerning the counseling session was not falsely prejudicial for completely omitting any reference to the events giving rise to the counseling session or the context, in which even before the plaintiff’s arrival, the Dubai office had such deficient management that the CPS was able to develop and engage in a pattern of poor work behavior.

Fails to connect rationally …

That prior agency management in Dubai allowed such poor work habits to persist likely made the plaintiff’s effort to enforce the most basic workplace rules more difficult and makes it all the more impressive that the plaintiff was, apparently, ultimately successful in reining in the CPS’s behavior. See, e.g., AR at 42 (noting that after the plaintiff spoke with the CPS about her “apparent pattern of abusing sick leave, . . . there were no further incidents of suspected leave abuse during the rating period”). As the FSGB itself has noted, a supervisor will “almost inevitabl[y]” have “a difficult relationship” with an employee when the supervisor “is trying to effect changes” in the employee’s behavior. FSGB Op. 2006-052 at 13.

Read in full below:

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@StateDept Cites 10 Cases Where Employees Were Placed on Admin Leave, See #10

Posted: 12:41 ET
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3 FAM 3464 defines “Excuse Absence” (commonly known as administrative leave) as absence from duty administratively authorized or approved by the leave-approving officer and does not result in a charge in leave of any kind or in loss of basic salary. 3 FAM 3464.102 also provides for Conduct-Related Excused Absence “Excused absence may be directed in rare circumstances and when authorized as provided by 3 FAH-1 H-3461.2 when an investigation, inquiry, or disciplinary action regarding the employee’s conduct is pending, has been requested, or will be requested within 2 workdays, and the continued presence of the employee in the workplace may pose a threat to the employee or to others, or may result in loss of, or damage to, U.S. Government property, or may otherwise jeopardize legitimate U.S. Government interests.”

According to grievance records, during the discovery phase of FSGB No. 2015-029, the State Department provided grievant with a spread sheet identifying 10 cases in which employees were placed on administrative leave pursuant to 3 FAM 3464.1.-2.

Via FSGB:  We quote the stated reasons for the administrative leave as follows (with numbering added):

  • 1) Ongoing investigation. Employee admitted to taking extra passport applications from courier beyond allowed quota. . . . (3 separate cases);
  • 2) Arrest based on violation of protective order;
  • 3) Allegations of misconduct and alcohol consumption while at US Embassy;
  • 4) Employee’s clearance suspended – reasons unknown. Employee failed to meet DS for compelled interview;
  • 5) By letter dated 11/14/13, PSS notified her of suspension of clearance. . . . ;
  • 6) Security Clearance suspended by DS. . . . ;
  • 7) DS investigating employee fraud/impersonating supervisor to obtain federal housing benefits;
  • 8) Arrested on child pornography charges. (no indication employee used USG equipment);
  • 9) Incident resulting in death of Ambassador and others. Admin leave while office evaluates appropriate action (3 separate cases);
  • 10) Employee investigated based on allegations of the rape of 2 women.

Grievant lacks any basis for asserting that the AL granted in these other cases did not serve USG “interests.” Those interests are broad, going far beyond the obvious trauma and safety issues as to other employees. Realistically, all 10 cases (based on the brief descriptions given in the record) invoked some type of governmental interest that was rather self-evident, e.g., stopping an employee from impersonating a supervisor or investigating the actual suspension of someone’s security clearance.21 The bottom line is that the Department’s decisions to grant AL to other persons who were subject to various investigations is not even pertinent to the grievant, [REDACTED].

The FSGB finds that “administrative leave is not an entitlement that would provide the grievant with certain safeguards, but is instead a prerogative administered by management to meet the needs of the Service.”

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

 

Administrative Leave: A Prerogative to Meet the Needs of the Service, Not/Not an Entitlement

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Unlike the MSPB, the Foreign Service Grievance Board does not identify its precedential decisions but the case below on administrative leave is worth noting whether this is precedent setting or not. In this case, FSGB says that administrative leave is 1) not an entitlement, 2) that it is a prerogative administered by management to meet the needs of the Service, 3) and that Department was not obligated to provide grievant with an explanation for its decision to deny admin leave.

Via FSGB:

Grievant is a Diplomatic Security Service Special Agent who became involved in an altercation with a local civilian while off duty during a temporary duty (TDY) assignment in Honolulu. This incident resulted in the discharge of his service weapon and the death of the civilian. The State of Hawaii brought criminal charges against grievant, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to represent him, finding that the incident was not the consequence of an official act or performance of his official duties.

For unspecified reasons, the Department placed grievant on administrative leave twice: first, in the aftermath of the shooting, when he was under judicial order not to leave Honolulu, and second, during the pendency of his first trial in 2013 (which resulted in a hung jury). Facing a second trial in 2014, grievant asked the Department to place him on administrative leave again. The Department ultimately denied this latter request and upheld its decision in an agency-level grievance.

Grievant acknowledged that under regulation (3 FAM 3464) the Department has discretionary authority to grant or deny administrative leave. He argued that although the Department is not compelled to grant his request, the weight of both equity and precedent suggest that it should do so. He asserted that the circumstances under which the Department earlier took the initiative to place him on administrative leave are substantially the same as those for which he later requested administrative leave (i.e., for his second trial) and arise from the same incident. He contended that if the Department is to “change” its decision regarding whether to grant him administrative leave, it must provide him an explanation of why it did so.

As the instant appeal does not concern discipline, grievant bears the burden of demonstrating that his grievance is meritorious. We found that grievant had failed to demonstrate that the Department had any obligation to approve his request for administrative leave or that it had violated any law or regulation in not doing so. Finally, we found that the facts of this case do not establish that the Department “changed” its decision; rather, the various decisions it made regarding whether to place grievant on administrative leave were separate, independent decisions. The Board concluded that the Department was not obligated to provide grievant with an explanation for its decision to deny AL. The appeal was denied in its entirety.

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FSGB and MSPB: Majority of the Grievance Cases Do Not Prevail

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Via State/OIG’s archive: Review of the Department of State Disciplinary Process:

Foreign Service and Civil Service employees have the right to file a grievance to contest the penalty in the letter from the deciding official. Initially, the Grievance Staff reviews grievances for the Department and reexamines all case materials. The Grievance Staff reviews about 130 Foreign Service and 20 Civil Service grievances of all types each year. A deputy assistant secretary for DGHR makes a determination on each grievance. That agency-level decision can be further appealed through separate Foreign Service and Civil Service processes. Under 3 Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) 4430, “upon request of the grievant, the agency shall suspend its action” in cases involving suspension, separation, or termination during the review process. This provision applies only to the Foreign Service.
[…]

Foreign Service Appeals Process

A Foreign Service employee may appeal an agency-level decision to the Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB), an independent grievance appeals forum established through the Foreign Service Act of 1980. Foreign Service employees facing separation on grounds of misconduct have a right to an automatic hearing before the FSGB. Attorneys or American Foreign Service Association representatives may represent the employee. The FSGB may uphold the agency-level decision, mandate a lesser penalty, or dismiss the case entirely. In 2013, it took an average of 43 weeks for the FSGB to process a case from filing date to final decision.

Foreign Service employees may request and the FSGB may grant “interim relief” (sometimes called “prescriptive relief”) to suspend disciplinary action while an appeal is in process.

The 1995 OIG audit of the FSGB, in addressing the perception that the FSGB routinely overturns the Department’s disciplinary actions, found that “the grievance system is used by a relatively small number of employees, the majority of whom do not prevail.”10 Data from the 2008–2013 FSGB annual reports indicate that this conclusion remains valid. During this 6-year period, the FSGB adjudicated 63 appeals of disciplinary actions. The FSGB partially upheld and partially reversed the Department in 15 cases and fully reversed the Department in only 4 cases. In eight cases, the nature of the FSGB’s decision is not reported in the annual report.

Civil Service Appeals Process

Civil Service employees suspended for more than 14 calendar days or removed or reduced in grade or pay may appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an independent quasi-judicial agency established in 1979 to protect Civil Service employees. Employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement with the American Federation of Government Employees or the National Federation of Federal Employees may file a grievance under the agreement or appeal to the MSPB, but not both. The Civil Service appeals process has no mechanism for interim relief.

MSPB data concerning cases originating in the Department do not disaggregate appeals related to disciplinary matters from appeals of all types. However, relatively few Civil Service cases of all types originating in the Department reach the MSPB. In FY 2012, the MSPB received 29 appeals from Department Civil Service employees: 21 were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or timeliness, and 4 were settled. The MSPB adjudicated only four and upheld the Department in all cases.

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Whoa! What happened to these Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) files? (Updated)

Posted: 3:26 am ET
Updated: 2:53 pm PT (see below)
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An interesting excerpt from an FSGB case:

Grievant “contends that she should not be held to a higher stand (sic) than senior Department officials and a DCM. In two of those cases, very high-ranking officials were found to have been less than candid with the Deputy Secretary of State about their relationships and not to have followed his instructions to “knock it off.””
[…]
FSGB: “However, we find it difficult to conclude that she should be held to a standard higher than that imposed on two of the Department’s most senior managers (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104), who were both charged, unlike grievant, with lack of candor; who failed to heed direct instructions from the Deputy Secretary of State; and whose conduct led to several complaints being lodged with the Director General of the Foreign Service, as well as curtailments from the office in which they worked. Likewise, we do not agree that grievant, an FS-02, should be punished more harshly than the employee charged in FSGB Case No. 2003- 045, who was, at least during part of the conduct at issue, a Deputy Chief of Mission and thus presumably senior to grievant in the instant case, in both rank and responsibility.”

That perked our interest. So we went looking for FSGB cases 2005-103, 2005-104 and FSGB Case No.2003- 045 using the search and browse function at fsgb.gov.  And lo, and behold, all these files (Record of Proceeding) are missing from the FSGB website (the FSGB case is online, but search function failed to locate it, see explanation below).  We’ve asked the FSGB what happened to these files and why they are not online. We will update this post if/when we get a response.

The Deputy Secretary of State in 2005 is either Richard Armitage who served from March 26, 2001 to February 22, 2005 or Robert Zoellick who served from February 22, 2005 to July 7, 2006, both under President George W. Bush. The Director General of the Foreign Service at that time is W. Robert Pearson who served from October 7, 2003 – February 27, 2006.

Update 2:53 pm PT

In response to our query, FSGB said that the first two numbers we cited (Employees 2005-103 and 2005-104) are not FSGB numbers but numbers assigned by the State Department to employees who faced some sort of discipline; these discipline cases were later presented to the Foreign Service Grievance Board as comparators.  The FSGB website only includes decisions and orders from the Board. It adds:

“We try to post all our decisions and orders online. Sometimes we learn something was missed due to an administrative error, and then we post it as soon as possible when the problem is brought to our attention. We also are reviewing each year’s cases systematically to ensure there are no gaps. We welcome your bringing to our attention any gaps you identify. Please note, however, that a skipped number does not necessarily mean there is something that we are not posting; it could mean that an appeal was withdrawn very early or consolidated with another appeal and given the other appeal’s number before issuance of a decision.”

As to FSGB Case No. 2003-045, it is online and the Board provided us the link here

 

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Related item:
State-13: Foreign Service Grievance Board Records

 

 

 

Judicial Actions Involving Foreign Service Grievance Board (FSGB) Rulings in 2015

Posted: 12:15 am ET
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Below are three appeals of FSGB decisions that were filed in the District Court for the District of Columbia in 2015 and a few other cases currently pending in court. All extracted from the 2015 FSGB Annual Report:

  • In May, Paul Fritch appealed the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2013-005. The circumstances of that case, as with two other appeals filed by Mr. Fritch with the Board, revolved around his transfer to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for seven years, and reemployment by the Department of State. Mr. Fritch’s district court appeal claims that the Department, affirmed by the Board decision, denied him benefits upon his return to which he was entitled by law, including promotion opportunities, housing expenses, lost contributions to his Thrift Savings Plan account, and position seniority. A decision is pending. (Also see  How many people should be put through a wringer before, oh you know …. and  Secondments to international organizations and promotions? Here comes the boo!).
  • In November, SharLyn Foo appealed the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No.2014-018, described above under financial cases resolved last year. The Board affirmed the Department’s denial of a waiver of repayment of annuity payments in excess of $300,000 deposited into Foo’s deceased mother’s account over more than a decade. A decision is pending.
  • Also in November, La Rufus Mitchell filed an appeal of the Board’s decision in FSGB Case No. 2014-003. Ms. Mitchell claims that the Department violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act when it separated her for not having passed the timed running test required for Diplomatic Security Agents. The Board had upheld the Department’s decision. (See the case description under Separation cases, above, for greater detail.) A decision is pending.
  • Appeal to the Foreign Service Labor Relations Board (FSRLB) | In October, the Department of State filed an appeal to the FSRLB of the Board’s decision in the implementation dispute filed by AFSA in FSGB Case No. 2014-028. The FSGB found that the Department had violated negotiated Procedural Precepts when it failed to pay Meritorious Service Increases (MSIs) to members of the Foreign Service in 2013. The Department has alleged that the Board relied on erroneous facts and factual premises not in evidence, and disregarded the express terms of the collective bargaining agreement when it based its decision on past practice. (See Implementation Disputes, above, for greater detail.) Also see Burn Bag: @StateDept announces its disappointment … 👀 OMG! It’s nice to feel valued!

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